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Allied Pilots Association Urges DOJ to Investigate Business Travel Coalition for Illegal Lobbying on Behalf of Gulf Carriers

FORT WORTH, Texas (Sept. 21, 2017) – This week, the Allied Pilots Association (APA) sent a letter to Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord urging the Department of Justice to look into the failure of the Business Travel Coalition (BTC) and its chairman, Kevin Mitchell, to register as foreign lobbyists. Specifically, the BTC’s advocacy work for the UAE and Qatar in support of the Gulf carriers raises serious questions over whether Mitchell and the organization broke the law by not registering lobbying activities under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”).

Together, the UAE and Qatar have pumped more than $50 billion into their state-owned airlines – Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways – in violation of their Open Skies agreements with the United States. Mitchell is a staunch defender of the Gulf carriers, engaging in significant advocacy activities on their behalf without registering with the U.S. government.

“It is preposterous to believe that Kevin Mitchell – one of the biggest cheerleaders for the United Arab Emirates and Qatar’s subsidization of their airlines – is doing this advocacy work out of the goodness of his heart. These are two oil-rich countries that throw money around like water, and any assertion that his work is pro bono is laughable on its face,” said Captain Daniel F. Carey, President of the Allied Pilots Association. “Registering under FARA would force Mr. Mitchell to disclose the financial support he receives from the UAE and Qatar. Mr. Mitchell owes it to the 1.2 million Americans whose jobs are jeopardized by the massive, rule-breaking subsidies to be open about his foreign business dealings and abide by U.S. law.”

The full text of the letter is available below and here.

Founded in 1963, the Allied Pilots Association — the largest independent pilots union in the United States — is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. APA represents the 15,000 pilots of American Airlines, including several hundred pilots on full-time military leave of absence serving in the armed forces. The union’s website is AlliedPilots.org. American Airlines is the world’s largest passenger airline.

Sept. 18, 2017

Mary B. McCord
Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security
U.S. Department of Justice/NSD
FARA Registration Unit
600 E Street, NW
BICN Building — Room 1300
Washington, DC 20530

Re: Potential FARA violations by the Business Travel Coalition

Dear Ms. McCord,

The Allied Pilots Association (“APA”) asks the Department of Justice to investigate whether the Business Travel Coalition (“BTC”) and its chairman, Kevin Mitchell, should be registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) in connection with their public advocacy and political activities regarding the United States’ Open Skies agreements with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”). Given the extent of the Business Travel Coalition’s advocacy efforts in support of the Gulf carriers, it is difficult to believe that Kevin Mitchell is not working on behalf of foreign interests.

BTC is an advocacy organization that focuses on the travel industry, with a particular interest in airlines and airline competition. Its chairman, Kevin Mitchell, is one of the most vocal advocates in the United States for the interests of three foreign, state-owned airlines — Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways (collectively, the “Gulf Carriers”) — with respect to whether the subsidies those airlines receive from the governments of Qatar and the UAE are inconsistent with the requirements of their respective Open Skies agreements.

Based on publicly available information, one of BTC’s stated missions is “to advocate Open Skies policies and promote robust aviation competition.” In addition, it describes one of its objectives as “to educate the U.S. Congress, the EU Parliament and other legislatures on the benefits of Open Skies agreements and the emerging threats and opportunities with respect to airline competition, the airline consumer and local and regional economies.”

While BTC frequently publishes written advocacy pieces on the Open Skies debate, and it has submitted formal comments to the Department of Transportation in support of the Gulf Carriers, the organization hasn’t taken any steps to register as a U.S. agent of foreign principal under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. See the attached packet for a sample of BTC’s advocacy materials.

Under FARA, U.S. agents of foreign principals are required to register with the Department of Justice and file any informational materials with the Department within 48 hours of their dissemination to the public. See 22 U.S.C. §§ 612(a), 614(a).

The Gulf Carriers indisputably qualify as foreign principals under FARA, which defines “foreign principal” to include a “corporation, organization, or other combination of persons organized under the laws of or having its principal place of business in a foreign country.” 22 U.S.C. § 611(b)(3). The three airlines are in fact extensions of their government sponsors. Emirates Airline is wholly owned by the Investment Corporation of Dubai, a Government of Dubai entity. Etihad Airways is wholly owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi. Qatar Airways is wholly owned by the Government of Qatar.

FARA broadly defines an “agent of a foreign principal” as “any person who acts as an agent, representative, employee, or servant, or any person who acts in any other capacity at the order, request, or under the direction or control, of a foreign principal or of a person any of whose activities are directly or indirectly supervised, directed, controlled, financed, or subsidized in whole or in major part by a foreign principal, and who directly or through any other person — (i) engages within the United States in political activities for or in the interests of such foreign principal; (ii) acts within the United States as a public relations counsel, publicity agent, information-service employee, or political consultant for or in the interests of such foreign principal; [or] (iv) within the United States represents the interests of such foreign principal before any agency or official of the Government of the United States.” 22 U.S.C. § 611(c)(1) (emphasis added).

The bottom line is the public has the right to know whether Kevin Mitchell and the Business Travel Coalition are acting at the request, or under the direction or control, of Emirates, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways. Because BTC has not registered under FARA, APA has been unable to ascertain the nature of any formal relationship between BTC and any of the Gulf Carriers. On behalf of the 15,000 pilots we represent, whose jobs are threatened by the continued subsidization of Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar, we ask the Department to investigate whether BTC and Kevin Mitchell should be registered under FARA, given the nature of their advocacy work in support of the Gulf carriers.

Respectfully submitted,

Captain Daniel F. Carey
Allied Pilots Association

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